Ancient Wisdom

by Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS

There’s a fascinating approach that can help you to hone in on specific foods that are best for you. Known as the doctrine of signatures, or “like supports like,” the theory states that foods that look like a body part are beneficial for that body part.

Paracelsus, a Swiss physician in the 15th century, explained it this way: “Nature marks each growth…according to its curative benefit.” Take carrots. Slice one open, and you’ll see that it actually looks like an eye. Today there are numerous medical studies that have proven that the nutrients in carrots, like beta-carotene and lutein, improve eye health.

The idea that nature holds clues for how to use food medicinally was hit upon, seemingly independently, by a variety of cultures around the world, from Asia to the Middle East. Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist who died in AD 79, was the first to mention it in the West—and the idea was picked up through the years by a number of well-known physicians and botanists. William Coles, a 17th-century botanist, wrote that “God stamped upon [edible plants] a distinct forme but also hath given them particular Signatures whereby a man may read the use of them.” Although the idea is generally scoffed at in the West today, I believe he was right.

Here are some super healthy foods that science has shown abide by the doctrine of signatures. You can also use this as a guide to the foods that can treat your health weaknesses.

  •  Carrots resemble eyes and bolster vision. These crunchy veggies are great sources of lutein and beta-carotene, antioxidants that support eye health and protect against age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration. What’s more, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A, which helps you see in the dark.
  • Walnuts look like mini brains and are the best nut for brain health. Research in mice with Alzheimer’s has shown that a walnut-heavy diet improves memory and learning, and studies of aging people have shown that eating walnuts improves cognitive processing speed, mental flexibility and memory.
  • Celery stalks look similar to bones and protect bone health.
    Celery contains silicon, which contributes to bone strength. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K, which works with calcium to build strong bones, and potassium, which neutralizes acids that erode bone calcium.
  • Beets are blood red and can help with anemia, blood flow and blood pressure. Rich in iron, these red beauties can bolster hemoglobin, the red protein in blood that’s responsible for oxygen transport. Beets also contain nitrates, which transform into nitric oxide, a substance that dilates blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving the body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to tissues. Research shows that beet juice improves exercise stamina up to 16 percent.
  • Onions resemble cells and protect them. Onions contain vitamin C, which shields cells from damage caused by unstable free radical molecules, and potassium, which is required for normal cell function. And because they contain sulfur, onions can protect cells from cancer.
  • Tomatoes look like heart chambers and they’re cardioprotective. Slice open a tomato and you’ll find heart-like chambers. Studies show that eating tomatoes reduces blood pressure, protects the heart from damage during a heart attack, improves survival rates in patients with heart failure and reduces the risk of stroke.
  • Ginger looks like a stomach and is a potent antidote for nausea. Gingerol, the ingredient that gives ginger its tangy taste, has the ability to prevent nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweet potatoes are shaped like a pancreas and promote its healthy functioning. In TCM, sweet potatoes are used to support the spleen and pancreas. And even though they’re “sweet,” they contain slow-release carbs and the hormone adiponectin, which help promote healthy blood sugar, thereby helping the pancreas do its job.
  • Reishi mushrooms resemble kidneys and adrenals and support these glands. In TCM, reishi is considered a tonic for qi, and studies show it promotes energy and stamina, even in those with fatigue-causing conditions like fibromyalgia.
  • Avocados look like a uterus and support reproductive health. Avocados contain a healthy dose of folic acid, a B vitamin that’s crucial during pregnancy for the health of the baby and can reduce the risk of cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition.Figs resemble testicles and they benefit sperm. They’ve long been used to enhance fertility, and recent research has confirmed that fig extract can improve sperm count and motility.
  • Olives look like ovaries and protect reproductive health.
  • Healthy fats are critical for manufacturing the reproductive hormones necessary for conception, and they’re good for maintaining general reproductive health in both men and women.
  • Coconuts look like heads and coconut oil is good for brain health. Research shows that consuming medium-chain triglycerides, the type of fat in coconut oil, can improve brain function in people with mild forms of Alzheimer’s.
  • Ginseng roots look like mini humans and support whole- body health. Ginseng is used to increase energy, improve cognition, reduce blood sugar and stress, promote relaxation and enhance overall well-being.
  • Grape clusters look like lung alveoli and protect lungs. Grapes contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that’s critical for maintaining lung function as you age.

I’m thrilled to be able to share these ancient secrets with you. They’ve been hidden too long. By eating more like the Ancients did, you’ll give your body the fuel it needs to fight viral and bacterial infections, power through your days with plenty of energy, and function at your highest level.

Excerpted from ANCIENT REMEDIES. Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Josh Axe. Used with permission of Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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